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    Posted on Jun 7, 2018

    Four Years Later: A Letter To Brittany Maynard

    Nearly four years after Maynard's physician-assisted suicide, the "Death with Dignity" debate continues

    1. Brittany Maynard suffered from terminal brain cancer and ended her life through physician-assisted suicide in 2014

    Brittany and her dog Charley / Via cnn.com

    Dear Brittany, We never had the chance to meet, but I consider you a friend. My name is Suzanne, I am 36, and the two of us have so much in common. We are both young women, highly educated, animal lovers, introverts, and from what I can tell, sassy and unafraid to speak our minds. Unfortunately, we also have one other thing in common: terminal brain cancer.

    2. This type of cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, often has non-specific symptoms, no known cause, and can affect anyone

    Suzanne and her cat Prufrock

    Three days after my 36th birthday and five days before Christmas of 2017, I discovered I had a left frontal lobe brain tumor. The only symptoms I experienced were weakness in my right foot and as I finished turning in final grades for the semester, a bizarre seizure leaving me partially and temporarily paralyzed. I teach college English, and I was happy for the semester to end and anxious to see my family for the holidays.

    3. Often, glioblastoma multiforme can be surgically removed but nearly always returns

    Suzanne's glioblastoma before surgery

    I never made it home for the holidays. Instead, an ambulance transported me to a hospital two hours away from my pets and apartment in Boone, North Carolina. I had a craniotomy in the poinsettia and pine tree-lined hospital and still could not walk or use my right arm after surgery. Through perseverance and a month in the hospital’s rehab center, I learned to use my arm and leg again. I believed I was ready to return to normal life. Instead, the surgeon made a surprise visit to my hospital room and informed my mother and me of some devastating news: my tumor was a glioblastoma or grade IV brain cancer. I would begin treatment immediately after my hospital release.

    4. Despite treatment options, there is no cure for glioblastoma multiforme

    Brittany and her husband Dan / Via today.com

    However, this is not the first time I encountered you. I actually used your advocacy, words, and videos for a “Right to Die” debate in a composition class about a year earlier. Through your story, even students who initially chafed at the premise of choosing one’s fate came to understand why “Death with Dignity” is a relevant argument to consider.

    5. Treatment often involves surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, and intensive physical, speech, and occupational therapy

    Suzanne after completing radiation

    But then my experience with you became very personal. Your advocacy, your words, and even your beautiful pictures (coupled with articles about you) gave me strength and made me feel less alone. I very quickly discovered that not very many young women are diagnosed with grade IV brain cancer. Although I have a lot of people who care about me, no one could truly understand the weight of the fear and terror accompanying the diagnosis. I felt like a burning ship in the middle of a turbulent ocean. Either way, I would burn or drown. No one could save me.

    6. Variations of "Death with Dignity" or the "Right to Die" still do not exist everywhere in the U.S.

    The most current map of Death with Dignity statutes / Via deathwithdignity.org

    At this point I do not know what I am going to do, but your voice has given me optimism. Although I feel inconsolable about my lack of a future, you have helped provide options for someone like me. I am forever hopeful more states will pass the “Death with Dignity” act to help others like us. Sadly, not everyone understands the value of these laws. Neither my home states of West Virginia or North Carolina have passed the “Death With Dignity” act, so it is likely I will pass away painfully when my time comes.

    7. Without assisted suicide, death from glioblastoma multiforme can be a slow, painful process

    Brittany's husband Dan with their dogs / Via mercurynews.com

    As an animal lover and someone who partook in assisted suicide, I know you understand the value of slipping away painlessly instead of suffering. We are so kind to our animals—we want them to die without pain, without fear, and in our arms. Unfortunately, most states do not have the same value for human life. I can only hope that this changes soon.

    8. Physician-assisted suicide can help those suffering from glioblastoma multiforme (and similar diseases) end their lives with peace and dignity

    Suzanne during treatment

    Thank you for your narrative and bravery. Although you have passed on, your insistence gives this debate a strong, living voice. Your friend and fellow fighter, Suzanne

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